Worth more than diamonds: Introducing Korean culture in Swahili
Dec 01, 2009
“Aid activities are all about ‘becoming independent.’ Giving aid is helping the poor to be able to live on their own.” Contemporary poet Hwang Hak-joo stands at the forefront of change in Africa.
Korea recently joined the club of donor nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as the first nation to have transformed from an aid recipient to a donor country. This is significant as it indicates that Korean society encourages citizens to share love with the neighbors in and outside of the country. Thanks to celebrities and other campaigns, the perception of being involved in aid activities in developing countries, especially in Africa, has changed positively among ordinary citizens.
Hwang Hak-joo does this in a different way. As part of his aid activities, Hwang chose to publish a literary magazine. This poet, who is the head of “Peacefriend,” a humanitarian relief organization, says that publishing literary works in Swahili has been a lifelong goal of his, since he participated in an international relief operation 15 years ago.
“Having spent three years in Kenya, I met local poets and writers who are restrained from writing in their own native language. Under Japanese colonization, we Koreans were also banned from writing in Korean, so I could understand what they are going through.”
The literary publication in Swahili, “Rafiki Wa Fasihi,” published by Mr. Hwang and edited by the Tanzania Writers Association, is the first of its kind to be published in Africa. Two thousand copies of the first issue were distributed to libraries and writers in other African countries.
Spoken by various ethnic groups, Swahili is an official language of Tanzania and is widely used as a lingua franca in eastern Africa. However, due to the increasing use of the English language having led to a decline in the use of Swahili, many African literary artists are concerning about the language vanishing. “That’s how I came to publish magazines in Swahili, so I could help preserving the language as well as promoting Korean culture in Africa.”
In the first issues, readers could enjoy reading the literary works of 20 contemporary African poets and 4 fiction writers in Swahili. Also, some works written by famous Korean poets translated in English are published in the magazine. Starting next issue, Korean literary writings will be made available in Swahili.
“It’s far more challenging to publish a book than to go out to help feed the hungry. Some say it would be easier and better to get more food to give out to them. Working with writers who have a negative attitude towards the government sometimes made the job more difficult.” But he says aid work is more than simply donating money and giving out food.
It was 1993 when he first had his volunteer experience in Africa, and then in 1994, he opened a school in a small town in Kenya. “Peacefriend,” an aid organization established by Mr. Hwang in 2004 is involved in many different activities: publishing magazines, standing against female circumcision, setting up an art school in Tanzania and doing charity works towards conserving the Serengeti’s ecosystem. Famous writers, poets, photographers, singer and other artists from Korea are giving a hand.
“When you are involved in aid activities, you have to fully understand the situation they are in, and try to be friends with them rather than just ‘helping’ them,” said Hwang who is seeking more volunteers for the change. “We can explore our inner selves through volunteer work. It’s something that diamonds can’t buy.”
*Adapted from Weekly Gonggam Magazine
By Cindy Kim
Korea.net Staff Writer
Department Global Communication and Contents Division